What's new in Android 4.4 KitKat?

Google has just announced the launch of Android 4.4 KitKat alongside the Nexus 5 smartphone.

As the latest and greatest version of Android, it's supposed to have a "more polished design, improved performance, and new features", putting what you want to see up front and centre. While such marketing lingo is exciting, you probably want to know the nitty-gritty.

Well, look no further. Pocket-lint has detailed everything that's new, straight from the mouth of Google. Read on to learn all about the sweet features in KitKat.

Read: Google Nexus 5 officially unveiled: On sale 1 November

What is Android 4.4 KitKat?

The successor to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, it will become the newest version of Android when it releases with the Google Nexus 5. Google announced Android 4.4 KitKat (named in collaboration with Nestlé and Hershey) on 3 September. It was originally rumoured to be called Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie.

Small taste of KitKat

When Google unveiled the Google Nexus 5, it also gave a small taste of KitKat in a blog post. Here's what the Mountain View-based company had to say.

Immersive mode

Immersive mode in Android 4.4 KitKat "automatically hides everything except what you would want to see", making book reading, game playing or movie watching more engaging.

Calling

Google says you can search across contacts, nearby places or Google Apps accounts directly from within the Phone app. The new Hangouts app further combines all SMS and MMS messages into one place, alongside other conversations and video calls.

Nexus 5 launcher

Google has given the following details about the Nexus 5 launcher: "Swipe once from the home screen to get Google Now literally at your fingertips. Put Google to work for you by saying 'OK, Google' to launch voice search, send a text, get directions or even play a song you want to hear."

Google Now

Google will add important new card types to Google Now in the coming weeks. The cards will include information about contextual topics such as updates from a favorite website or blog, shopping and attractions. You'll even be able to purchase movie tickets through Fandango when at the cinema.

Read: Android 4.4 KitKat increases budget phone performance, won't support Galaxy Nexus

What's new in KitKat?

To coincide with the launch of Nexus 5, Google has finally launched a dedicated page for Android 4.4 KitKat. This is what the page explains:

Design

The new Android OS offers a bunch of design tweaks. The user interface visibly looks cleaner and simpler. Examples include a translucent status and notification bar that disappears when in a fullscreen app. Despite these design changes, KitKat also looks quite similar to Jelly Bean. In other words, don't expect an iOS 7-like overhaul in terms of the user interface.

Voice Search

Voice Search is hands-free with keyword activation. No longer do you have to touch the screen to send a text, get directions, play a song or launch Voice Search. Just say "OK Google" when on your home screen or in Google Now. There's also 25 per cent better accuracy in speech recognition.

Lock screen

While listening to music on a device or projecting movies to Chromecast, you'll see a full-screen album or movie art when your device is locked. From there, you can seek movies and music from the lock screen. Just long press on the play or pause button to find a specific moment.

Multitasking

Android 4.4 KitKat optimises memory and improves the touchscreen, meaning your device will respond faster and more accurately than ever before. This change also means you can, for instance, listen to music while browsing the web without any hiccups.

Phone app

The new phone app organises contacts based on the people you talk to the most. Google even built Yellow Pages into the app, enabling you to search for a business or person and then dial the number without having to exit the app. Other search functions include the ability to search nearby places and businesses, your contacts, or people in your Google Apps domain.

Caller ID

Google says your phone will look for matches from businesses with a local listing on Google Maps whenever you get a call from someone not saved in contacts.

Emoji

If texting is more your thing, you can now use Emojis. Google has added the colourful Japanese characters to Google Keyboard.

Printing

Some of the other KitKat features detailed include the ability to print photos, documents, and web pages from your device to any printer connected to Google Cloud Print. You can even print to HP ePrint printer or other printers with apps in the Google Play Store.

Google Drive

Google Drive integration is now deeper, according to Google: "From apps like Quickoffice, you can open and save files on Google Drive, other cloud storage services, or your device. And with quick access to recently used files, it's easier than ever to send the file you were just working on."

Read: Android 4.4 KitKat to add better support for low-end phones, wearables, and TV

What else is new in KitKat?

Google also explains some of the finer features of Android 4.4 KitKat on its dedicated page. One thing is definitely clear: Google's new mobile OS is all about efficiency. The company's apps will use less memory, the interface is streamlined and will scale back to fit devices with only 512MB of RAM, etc. 

Support options

Android 4.4 KitKat supports Chromecast, allowing you to beam your favorite online entertainment like Netflix or YouTube from your Android device to an HDTV with Chromecast. It also offers support for Bluetooth MAP, closed captioning, third-party cloud storage in the Gallery app and Infrared. So, if you have a device with an infrared blaster, it will work with apps for remote control of TVs and other nearby devices.

Home screen 

You can switch between installed home screens and replacement home screens under Settings.

Email

The redesign Email app features nested folders, contact photos and improved navigation. 

Settings

You have the ability to access your location settings from anywhere with a new tile in Quick Settings. Google has also tackled battery life in KitKat through sensor batching. If you want to conserve battery, just go to Settings > Location. You can then switch between high accuracy and battery-saving location modes.

Built-in device management

If you lose a device, you can find or swipe it with the Android Device Manager. Learn more about device management here.

What KitKat features are exclusive to the Nexus 5?

Google included a few features in KitKat exclusive to the new Nexus 5, of course.

Wallpapers

Wallpapers now extend through the notification tray and system buttons on Nexus 5. You can also preview just how wallpapers will look before you set it.

HDR+ mode

HDR+ mode on Nexus 5 auto-snaps a rapid burst of photos. It even combines them to give you the best shot. Android 4.4 KitKat further makes daytime pictures more vivid and night-time photos less noisy.

Audio

KitKat on Nexus 5 lets you listen to up to 60 hours of audio playback.

Touchscreen improvements

Thanks to improved software and Nexus 5’s new hardware, Android 4.4 KitKat responds to your touch faster than ever before.

Read: Google Nexus 5 vs Nexus 4: What's the difference?

What's new in KitKat for developers?

The Android Developers hub has provided a quick look at the new patterns and styles in Android 4.4 KitKat.

Branding

Developers now have the ability to customise the look of their app to reinforce branding. Examples include using a brand colour for accents by overriding the Android framework's default blue in user-interface elements like checkboxes, progress bars, radio buttons, sliders, tabs and scroll indicators.

Action Bar

Developers can show their apps' launcher icon and name in the action bar, enabling users to see it in every screen of a developer's app.

Support

Developers can now write apps that support infrared control, pedometer-like step counting and a carrier-independent NFC payment architecture.

Read: Android 4.4 KitKat: When's it coming to my phone or tablet?

Want KitKat now?

What to play with Android 4.4 KitKat immediately? Then buy a Nexus 5 on 1 November. Otherwise, you'll have to wait. Google said the upgrade would roll out to other devices in the "coming weeks". That said, manufacturers haven't revealed yet whether they'll upgrade their smartphones to KitKat. Stay tuned, though. We're sure at least a few announcements for more recent devices will come soon.